The Godwulf Manuscript Themes
by Robert B. Parker

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Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As with all fiction The Godwulf Manuscript is a novel of its time and reflects the background of its author. It is no wonder that his first published novel is set on a college campus. Parker obviously is drawing on the fact that he spent the previous decade teaching. But in The Godwulf Manuscript he casts a jaundiced eye on both the university world and the social world of student radicals and various other hangers-on of the campus community both inside and outside of the collegiate environment.

Hired by the security chief of a local university to search for a rare manuscript which has been stolen from the campus library, Spenser spends a good portion of the novel in and around the university environs, during which he meets up with various academic administrators and radicals, both student and faculty. Spenser's exposure to these political types allows Parker to level his protagonist's wit at both the self-important officials and their unruly charges. The academic administrators, especially the university's president, come off as a bunch of pompous asses bent more on developing and protecting their privilege and power than on educating students and running an institution of higher learning. Parker does not spare the campus radicals either as they are portrayed as posturing charlatans. Both are more concerned with image than substance and neither seems to display much conscience about the ethics of their behavior.

As he would do with the rest of the series, Parker also satirizes the local professional criminals when the story extends beyond the confines of the campus into the underworld that is supplying drugs to students and faculty alike. Of course, the difference is that their being the bad guys we expect them to behave improperly and to exploit people for their own gain, and the hoods do not make any pretense of behaving otherwise. Spenser operates as he always does to puncture the pretense of the pompous, whoever they may be, and to expose the nasty realities which lie below the normality of everyday life.

Like all detective fiction, The Godwulf Manuscript is a search novel, one in which the detective pursues a lost object, in this case a valuable illuminated manuscript, and in the process uncovers the sordid and uncomfortable truths lying beneath the tensions of the modern academic world.